Literature Review Chapter: History of Construction Technology of 4 Periods in Ancient Civilization

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History of Construction Technology of 4 periods in Ancient Civilization

Construction in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt

Mesopotamia did not have much timber but the area could boast of palm leaves and reed instead. However, before the consumption of fired pottery, and since the period of earliest Neolith, the villagers residing in the east of Tigris used to construct their homes out of dried clay while the area of Jericho depicts instances of construction that was done by mud bricks, one of which would be altered to accept timber cross-beams (Sttraub, 1952; Derry and Williams, 1961).

One of the uses of buildings and structures constructed in this way was the fact that they had a longer life in a drier climate. Mesopotamia, which was characterized by flat alluvial plains, recorded instances of construction that was done by clay over a period that spanned more than 6000 years. In comparison, the Nile valley used stone for construction when it came to the state while clay was still used largely by the masses. The construction of buildings from clay was also found in the area of Asia Minor and the Crete islands, despite it being hugely forested. Even Asia Minor had alternative materials in the form of wood and stones. Therefore, smashed clay also known as pise, sun dried brick and kiln fired brick were important elements in the history of the initial empires (Sttraub, 1952; Derry and Williams, 1961).

The preparation of the clay was done by including water in the treaded and chopped straw or even dung to avoid deformation and later the bricks would be given a shape, mostly in twos. The shape would usually be a rectangle without a top or bottom which would then be allowed to dry after being occasionally flipped from side to side. If water was added in a large quantity to the mixture, the clay would become suitable for the purpose of plastering (Sttraub, 1952).

For building, kiln was mostly used for special reasons such as in the construction of pavements and footpaths and when a need was felt to keep the brick watertight. However, it was not until the classical times that it began to be used in Egypt. The process of brick-laying and the shapes of the bricks in Mesopotamia were quite unlike the ones that became commonly used after a period. The upper portion of the brick was kept curved like the upper part of a loaf of bread and they were spread out at a little angle. Every other course slanted in contrasting directions thereby rendering a herring-bone effect to the brick which may be observed in the west of England in modern times (Hibbert, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

The building of bricks attained its peak in worship and prayer areas, known by the name of ziggurats during 2000 B.C. In the area of Mesopotamia. In the place of Ur, where the worship area "ziggurat" (Fig.1) measured up to 75 yards long and 60 yards wide, having a height of 30 yards and being 8 feet thick, the bricks were kiln-baked. Records in Strabo depict that at Hit, rivers contained an ample supply of bitumen used to facilitate the setting of kiln-baked bricks. Developments in Mesopotamia were later furthered by the introduction of stone usage by the Assyrians who lived in the North.

(Fig 1: Derry and Williams, pg: 159).

During the third millennium B.C. Egypt showed great instances of buildings which depicted the art of quarryman and the stonemason that were quite developed. Step-pyramid of Zoser is one example. To reach to the huge blocks of stone, a tunnel was constructed from the face of a cliff that spanned over many hundreds of yards to facilitate the transfer. Leaning in a deep alcove constructed right under the roof of the layer to be worked, the worker outlined blocks in the base of the alcove, cut and split them by putting in wedges made of wood, which were wet to facilitate expansion (Hibbert, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

The alcove would be slowly furthered while the rock would be cut in steps. This process was seemingly carried out with a mason's pick and what is even more surprising is that the blocks of stones that weighed around thousands of tons were carried from the mines to the working site without any modern vehicles. Only basic materials such as levers, rollers, ropes, sledges and a remarkable amount of individual strength was used to take the blocks to and from the destination (Beck, 2009).

During the time of King Zoser, smaller blocks were used while later the use of larger stone masonry was observed. The blocks would be squared and shaped by hand with a chisel, mallet, boning rod to strengthen and the mason's square. The amount of labor needed to construct the great Pyramid which was constructed about over a 100 years after Zoser's amounted to over 8 working days on each cubic foot of masonry according to Herodotus and when the transport time is taken into consideration, it does not seem as unbelievable (Toy, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

The pyramid is 150 feet higher than the Saint Paul's Cathedral and even though it spans a height of 13 acres, it misses being a perfect square only by 6/10-inch in length and 12 seconds of angle. The process of construction by alternative deposits each with its own limestone casting makes the end product even more breathtaking and awe-inspiring (Toy, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

Egyptian temples, on the other hand, since they did not have the arch, were restricted to a space of 9-10 ft amid columns as it was the maximum length, which a limestone block could measure up to safely. However, when the Silsila sandstone was discovered the distance was trebled. One other thing that the Egyptians accomplished was of converging three architraves so that all of them rested on a single column's head (Toy, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

In the instance of the temple of Karnak, the columns were frequently constructed from a series of drums which often consumed several blocks to construct a single capital as the scale was so huge. However, as with many other Egyptian constructions the base was kept weak and little attention was paid to it as became known in 1899 a.D. when eleven of the Egyptian columns came down. Regardless of weak foundations, Egyptian structures has never failed to fascinate the people worldwide in their immaculate constructions -- their walls, ceilings, obelisks and the unbelievable accuracy of the pyramids that were constructed without any apparent knowledge of mathematics (Fig. 2) (Beck, 2009).

(Fig 2: Derry and Williams, pg: 159).

During the initial period of the first millennium B.C, gypsum and limestone were both being included in the brick building practice in the plains of Mesopotamia. The stone canal of Sennacherib which carried water to Nineveh from a distance of 50 miles with a fall of 1 in 80 is an instance of construction that is quite remarkable. Not only a great distance was covered by the limestone construction but the structure was graded evenly throughout. Bitumen was also used to make the construction waterproof (Toy, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

The Assyrian kings customarily decorated the entrance of their palaces with about 20 ton bull colossi at which the carving was only carried out after the structure was sleighed into the site. However, they were initially brought from the Tigris on water. Most of the constructions were still done in brick form and the arching was used to make the vaults (Stocks, 2003).

(Fig 3: Derry and Williams, pg: 161).

It was in Babylon that the glazed brick were seen to be used at a high rate where the structures on the Ishtar gate (Fig. 3) have been put forth in a clay panel which was later separated into glazed and fired bricks. What is noticeable in the construction is the fact that they are repeated on the gate and the underground street walls so that only the modern archaeologist will be able to capture them -- an instance which becomes even more remarkable as the foundations in Mesopotamia like with Egypt were the weakest as compared to the rest of the structure (Toy, 1955; Derry and Williams, 1961).

Construction in Ancient Greece and Roman Empire

The Roman and Greek architecture possesses the same artistic touch that can be seen in their literature. Their town planning are systematic and are along the lines of a gridiron, which originated with the Hippodamus of Miletus, who also reshaped the Piraeus and it developed further in the Alexandrian Egypt where the Greeks pursued the tradition of their ancient empires. At present the archeologists, however, are more interested in the Roman architecture than the Greeks. They do, however, give a great deal of attention to Herodotus. The Greek architecture has been generally neglected because the great writers from Greece paid either little or no attention to the intricacies and grandeur of the Greek… [END OF PREVIEW]

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History of Construction Technology of 4 Periods in Ancient Civilization.  (2010, November 16).  Retrieved June 26, 2019, from

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"History of Construction Technology of 4 Periods in Ancient Civilization."  November 16, 2010.  Accessed June 26, 2019.